What is tennis elbow?
Tennis elbow is soreness or pain on the outer part of the elbow. It happens when you damage the tendons that connect the muscles of your forearm to your elbow. The pain may spread down your arm to your wrist. If you don’t treat the injury, it may hurt to do simple things like turn a key or open a door.
Your doctor may call this condition lateral epicondylitis.
What causes tennis elbow?
Most of the time tennis elbow is caused by overuse. You probably got it from doing activities where you twist your arm over and over. This can stress the tendon, causing tiny tears that in time lead to pain. A direct blow to the outer elbow can also cause tendon damage.
Tennis elbow injuries can result from:
- Overuse. Repeated movements that involve twisting of the elbow cause small tears in the tendon, weakening it. Overuse depends on how hard or how long you do something.
- Technique, or the way you do an activity. This includes holding equipment or a tool in a awkward position while you use it.
- Equipment. This can happen, for example, if you use a tool or sports equipment that is too heavy for you or that has a grip that is the wrong size for your hand.
- A single accident, such as a direct hit to the side of the elbow (lateral epicondyle), or falling on an outstretched arm.
Anyone can get tennis elbow, but it usually occurs in people in their 40s.
How is tennis elbow diagnosed?
To diagnose tennis elbow, a doctor will examine your elbow and ask questions about the elbow problem, your daily activities, and past injuries. You probably won’t need to have an X-ray, but you might have one to help rule out other things that could be causing the pain.
Symptoms of tennis elbow
Tennis elbow symptoms usually begin gradually. The main symptom is pain, which may begin with a dull aching or soreness on the outer part of the elbow that goes away within 24 hours after an activity. As time goes on, it may take longer for the pain to go away. The condition may further progress to pain with any movement, even during everyday activities, such as lifting a jug of milk. Pain may spread to the hand, wrist, other parts of the arm, shoulder, or neck.
Tennis elbow pain:
- Usually occurs in the dominant arm (your right arm if you are right-handed, or left arm if you are left-handed).
- Affects the outside of the elbow (the side away from your body). Pain increases when that area is pressed or when you are grasping or twisting objects.
- May increase in the evening and make sleep difficult. The elbow might be stiff in the morning.
- Over time may occur with mild activity, such as picking up a coffee cup, turning a jar lid or doorknob or key, or shaking hands. Simply starting your car could hurt. You may even have pain when you aren’t using your elbow.
Other parts of the arm, shoulder, and neck may also become sore or painful as the body tries to make up for the loss of elbow movement and strength.
Swelling rarely occurs with tennis elbow. If your elbow is swollen, you may have another type of condition, such as arthritis.
Radial tunnel syndrome is an unusual type of nerve entrapment that is sometimes confused with or can develop at the same time as tennis elbow.
When To Call a Doctor
Call your doctor immediately if you had an injury to your elbow and:
- You have severe elbow pain.
- You cannot move your elbow normally.
- Your elbow looks deformed.
- Your elbow begins to swell within 30 minutes of the injury.
- You have signs of damage to the nerves or blood vessels. These include:
- Numbness, tingling, or a “pins-and-needles” sensation below the injury.
- Pale or bluish skin.
- The injured arm feeling colder to the touch than the uninjured one.
Call your doctor if you have:
- Pain when grasping, twisting, or lifting objects.
- Work-related problems caused by your elbow pain.
- Elbow pain after 2 weeks of home treatment or if treatment is making your elbow pain worse.
How is tennis elbow treated?
You can start treating tennis elbow at home right away.
- Rest your arm, and avoid any activity that makes the pain worse.
- As soon as you notice pain, use ice or cold packs for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. Always put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Keep using ice as long as it relieves pain. Or use a warm, moist cloth or take hot baths if they feel good. Do what works for you.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen if you need them. Or try an NSAID cream that you rub over the sore area. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Wear a counterforce brace when you need to grasp or twist something. This is a strap around your forearm placed about an inch below your elbow. It may ease the pressure on the tendon and spread force throughout your arm.
Our specialist treats tennis elbow using:
- Anti-inflammatory injections to reduce the inflammation at the tendon. This is a direct delivery of the medicine to the area.
- Shockwave therapy. This is a high energy soundwave that transmits to your tendon. It will stimulate our body’s self healing mechanism.
- Platelet rich plasma therapy. This is using the platelet of your blood sample and using the platelets self healing power to heal your tendon.
How to prevent tennis elbow?
The best way to prevent tennis elbow is to stretch and strengthen your arm muscles so that they are flexible and strong enough for your activities.
Surgery for tennis elbow
Most cases of tennis elbow are treated without surgery. You and your doctor might consider surgery if you have exhausted the conservative treatment and the pain is still bothering you.
Consider surgery if:
- Your elbow is still sore and painful after more than 6 to 12 months of trying conservative treatment.
- Your doctor has ruled out other possible causes of elbow pain, such as nerve problems, arthritis, muscle injury, or injury to another tendon.
- Your conservative treatment have given good short-term pain relief, but the pain has returned.
- You can’t do normal daily activities and job tasks because of elbow pain.
During surgery, a doctor will most likely cut (release) the tendon, remove damaged tissue from the tendon, or both. In some cases, tendon tears can be repaired.
After surgery, rehab is needed to restore flexibility and strength in the forearm.